Articles Posted in Product Liability

shutterstock_133245656-150x150Cars and trucks are coming out with newer and more advanced safety features every year.  The goal is to reduce the number of accidents and to reduce the severity of injury when an accident occurs.  Automobile manufacturers have made great strides over the years in reducing severe injuries and fatalities with safety devices like seat belts, airbags, and anti lock brakes.  There are occasions, however, when car makers do not get it right, when they overlook a potential hazard, or worse, when they learn of a hazard but keep the information to themselves while they continue to sell the vehicles.  When that happens, attorneys are often called upon to assist clients who’ve been injured or lost a loved one because of a defect in the vehicle.  Here are a few areas of automotive product liability lawyers are involved with.

Crashworthiness

Crashworthiness is a concept involving an automobile’s ability to protect its occupants during a crash.  We’ve all seen the footage of test dummies being hurled down a track behind the wheel and crashing into a wall.  Measurements are then taken to see how to dummies would have fared were they real people in a real crash.  There are several things that need to work together to keep people safe in a crash.  The airbags need to deploy when appropriate.  Seat belts need to engage.  Flammable substances in vehicle need to be kept away from sources of fire ignition to keep the car from catching fire.  The frame of the vehicle needs to hold firm to keep people from being crushed.  The crumple zone of a car needs to absorb the force of the impact so all of it is not felt by the passengers.  These and other factors go into making a vehicle crashworthy.  When one of these systems fails, people can get hurt or killed.  Cases involving crashworthiness involve one of these systems failing and a passenger that should have been kept safe during a crash being severely injured or killed as a result.

When a product or device causes injury, a court will ask the same sort of questions you would: How did the injury happen? Was there something wrong with the product? Who is at fault for the incident that caused harm? Although these questions seem simple, the answers can be complex. Product defects are generally put into three categories: design defects, manufacturing defects and marketing defects. In a manufacturing defect case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the product in question had a fault or defect. One useful tool for establishing that a device is defective is the use of non-destructive imaging.

When looking to determine the origin of product failures, X-ray and Computed Tomography (CT) scanning allows for analysis of a product’s internal workings without having to alter or open up the object itself.  This non-destructive method is crucial to maintaining a product’s structural integrity. CT scanning produces three-dimensional images by rotating the product or device 360 degrees and capturing detailed information at specific intervals. CT scanning provides dimensional analysis by making it possible to slice through parts in any direction in order to assess their internal structures.  This can be done without destroying or altering the device, thereby preserving the integrity of the most important evidence – the defective device itself.

Applications for Imaging include the following:

workplace-150x150Last week’s blog addressed the increase in work place injuries.  While worker’s compensation is generally the exclusive recovery source from the employer, there are other potential sources of recovery. Below are some common scenarios from work place injuries that may result in your ability to recover for your injuries:

Motor Vehicle Accidents/Car Wrecks:

A very common type of third-party claim arising from a workers’ compensation action is when someone gets into a motor vehicle accident or car wreck while driving for work.  Many people drive as part of their jobs: truck drivers, package delivery personnel, sales people who make on-site client visits, construction workers who haul materials, home health workers, even lawyers who have to drive to and from court.

heastone-150x150Lawsuits involving the death of a person in Alabama are generally governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute.  Alabama handles lawsuits regarding a death in a unique way.  This article will address what is unique about Alabama’s wrongful death statute and the importance of hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney.

When someone is killed in a motor vehicle accident, or dies using a product like an ATV, or otherwise dies because of the fault of someone else, the civil case will be governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute.  In Alabama, a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is appointed by the probate court and is entitled to pursue the claim on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.  Unlike many other states, any recovery made for a wrongful death in Alabama does not actually pass through the estate of the deceased person.  If a person has a will, the will does not determine who gets the proceeds of any recovery of the wrongful death case.  If the person’s estate owes money to creditors, the creditors are not allowed to recover any of the money won in the wrongful death case.  Instead, recovery from the wrongful death case is governed by the laws of intestacy in Alabama that govern how a person’s estate would be distributed if they did not have a will.  The typical order of preference under the intestacy statue is for proceeds to go to a spouse, to children, to parents, and then to other relatives in order of relation.  There are special rules, for instance, when someone dies with a spouse and children that are not from that spouse.

Alabama’s wrongful death statute is also unique in the kind of damages that are awarded.  In most states, a person’s lost income they would make in life had they not died comes in as damages.  In this way, different lives are valued differently.  Alabama does not even allow for such damages to be considered.  Alabama takes the view that all life is sacred and of equal worth.  Thus, the only damages that are awarded are punitive damages.  Punitive damages are damages that are designed to punish the party who caused the death for their conduct and to serve as a deterrent to others from engaging in conduct that may lead to someone else’s death.  Alabama treats all lives equally, and so the focus in an Alabama wrongful death case is on the conduct of the defendant rather than how much earning potential was lost when the person died.

“Vaping”, or the use of e-cigarettes, is viewed by many as a healthier – or perhaps less-damaging – alternative to smoking.  E-cigarettes utilize battery power to vaporize a liquid containing nicotine that the consumer then inhales. Although vaping is marketed as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes, the use of e-cigarettes appears to carry numerous risks, prompting a wave of litigation.

Typically, cases involving e-cigarettes fall into one of the following three categories:

  1. Consumer Fraud, Unfair Competition and False Advertising – Consumers allege that the companies marketing and manufacturing e-cigarettes have made false claims that their products have health benefits or are a safe alternative to smoking, despite evidence that e-cigarettes contain carcinogens and other chemicals.

Trial lawyers are often on the lookout for dangerous products.  We are up to date on the latest recalls and companies that have a reputation for making questionable products.  When shopping for our families, we often look for the presence or lack of certain safety features that others would not because we have spent years dealing with the damage and trauma dangerous products can cause a family.

Common household items can often pose unknown hazards.  Button batteries, commonly used in automobile key fobs, watches, and many toys, have become a recent hazard for small children.  Over a 14 year period ending in 2010, approximately 40,000 ER visits resulted from children ingesting batteries, and over half of these cases involved these button batteries.  Button batteries pose several serious health issues for children that have resulted in severe injury and death.  Choking is a major concern that can happen immediately.  Chemical burns to internal organs can also result is serious health issues and can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms often do not appear until days after a child has ingested a battery.

battery-e1483564735814Many toy makers now require a screwdriver to enter the battery compartment of their toys.  While annoying to parents, this is a protection against small children ingesting batteries that is useful.  Some makers of these batteries have ignored the problem, some have begun to warn against the problem, and others have begun to take action to protect children from these now-known dangers.  For instance, a recent trip to the drug store revealed a company with a two-fold approach to preventing children from swallowing these button batteries.  They place a warning directly on the battery to let parents know of the danger.  They also seal the packaging for the batteries so that scissors are needed to open them.  This is the proactive approach to preventing a known harm that some companies are taking to protect the public.  Unfortunately, it can often take years of knowing about a problem and many lawsuits before some companies finally come around to preventing such accidents.  For some companies, customer safety is important enough.  For others, the threat of money damages from their product harming the public is what is needed to improve product safety.

toys
In one of my favorite Holiday movies, “A Christmas Story” the main character Ralphie is a young boy who has his heart set on a “Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle.”  But, whenever he brings it up he is told “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Unfortunately in many cases, the dangers presented by toys are not so obvious as Ralphie’s BB gun.

The World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (W.A.T.C.H.) has published its “Worst Toy” List for 2016, and some of the items are surprising.

Toy #1 is “Peppa Pig’s Muddy Puddles Family”.  Although some packages contain choking hazard warnings and “age 3+” recommendation, other packages are sold for children as young as two and up with no warnings about toy-related hazards.

pictureWith the holidays approaching, more people are on the roads and more accidents are going to happen.

A stark reminder of what happens with increased traffic accident and poorly designed vehicles came out this week. A Georgia court decision this week upheld a $40 million judgment in the death of a four-year-old boy who died when his family’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended and burst into flames.

Safety advocates say Remington Walden is one of at least 270 people that have died in similar accidents involving older Jeep Cherokees with rear-mounted fuel tanks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied the cases for years but never ordered a formal recall. Lawyers allege that, instead of issuing a recall, federal officials and top FCA executives agreed to a “customer satisfaction campaign” that called for installing safety hitches as a protective measure, even though that solution was never scientifically proven to be effective at a secret 2013 meeting at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked more than 50 deaths to the fuel-tank problems.

Samsung has recalled all its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after a series of fires and explosions.  At first Samsung was offering replacement phones, but when these too showed a tendency to explode, Samsung has now apparently pulled the entire product line.  And it is now against the law to even take one of these devices on board a commercial flight.

Like most other electronic devices, the Galaxy Note 7 is powered by a lithium ion battery.  It has been known for years that lithium ion batteries can experience something called “thermal runaway.”  When this happens it creates the possibility of a fire or an explosion.  Fortunately, this is very rare but Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 seems to have a higher probability of experiencing this problem.

As consumers demand faster and faster devices with shorter charging times manufactures may be pushing the limits of lithium ion technology.  This can lead to disastrous results.  Most of the lithium ion batteries used in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphones is actually supplied by its affiliate, Samsung SDI Company, Inc…  However, some of the batteries used in the Galaxy Note 7 may have been supplies by Amperex Technology, a subsidiary of TDK Corporation, a Japanese company.  The Samsung SDI batteries are manufactured in Cheonan, South Korea and in Tianjin, China but put together in a Vietnamese facility.

car-accident-2-14492951-e1449528550287When a loved one is in an automobile accident that results in a serious injury or even death, it is not uncommon for a family to hire a law firm to represent their interests.  Medical bills, lost wages, the inability to pay for basic things in life because of a loss of income, pain, rehabilitation, loss of life or loss of the enjoyment of life – these are all things that no one is truly able to understand until they have to go through it.  If a serious injury or death is caused by the bad driving or bad decisions of another driver, that person needs to be held accountable for the harm they caused.

Unfortunately, most people driving the roads are not adequately insured to cover a serious injury or death claim.  In Alabama, the minimum insurance limits that are required by law for a driver is $25,000.  If a person with minimum limits seriously injures or kills your loved one, $25,000 is all that is available from the opposing driver’s insurance, which is a drop in the bucket for a serious injury or loss of a loved one.  Many people carry their own underinsured motorist coverage that can also pay, but it is extremely rare for these policies to provide adequate coverage for a serious injury or loss of life.

While most people assume the insurance of the opposing driver and your own insurance is the only possible source of recovery, there are always others avenues that need to be explored by a lawyer in a serious injury or fatal car accident.  One of the main areas our firm researches when helping a family with a serious injury or loss of life is defects in the vehicles themselves.  An issue with steering or a defective tire that blew out may have cause the other car to lose control.  There may have been a defective part on one of the cars that could have prevented the accident from happening in the first place.

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